Monday, March 08, 2010

snow shovels

A couple weeks ago, I heard an interview on the radio with a historian who was collecting stories from people in particular communities around Wisconsin. She started by giving everything mini writing assignments. Pick a word or phrase and write about that for 10 minutes, no more, no less, and see what you come up with. The examples were rather mundane, everyday objects, but they inspired all kinds of stories and memories. I've decided to do the same myself from time to time. I will share some on this blog. Here is my first: Snow Shovels.

I have no childhood memories of shoveling snow. I grew up in central Kentucky, where there is certainly snow from time to time throughout the winter, but mostly it melts right away. Or if it doesn't, everyone just stays indoors because they are too afraid to go outside. When I moved to Wisconsin for graduate school, the snow was kind of a shock. I remember one snowstorm in the middle of finals week, when 11" fell in one day. I was terrified the buses would stop running and I would be stranded in the god-awful Humanities building overnight (that didn't happen). I remember missing piano lessons I was supposed to teach because I had vastly underestimated how long it would take to dig the car out from that 11" of snow - and the way it piled up behind the car from the snow plow - when it was time for me to leave for the teaching studio.

By now, we consider ourselves snow experts. We have about a half dozen snow shovels, each with its own specific purpose. There is the rusty, square-ish shovel we found in the basement when we moved into our house, which we used the first winter of home-ownership. There is the bent-handled curvy shovel for clearing off the back deck. There is the large yellow straight-handled shovel named "Snow Plow" for heavy duty work, like the driveway. This winter, Stuart even bought an ice chipper, for cutting through the hardened piles that build up at the end of the driveway when time after time the plow comes around and the snow gets so packed down a regular shovel doesn't have a chance. The ice chipper looks rather like a garden hoe that isn't bent at the bottom. Last, there is the emergency snow shovel, a nifty device with an expandable handle that fits easily in the trunk of a car. It isn't much use for serious shoveling, but is the perfect tool for helpful young children, who love nothing more than to go outside in the early morning and help Daddy shovel snow off the deck.

Now the snow is melting. There is a lot of it, so even though we are having warm-ish weather, it will take a few weeks to completely disappear. I have to admit I'll miss when it's gone, just a little bit. Last evening we had an early supper and then the whole family went for a walk around the block. We all wore boots and even though it wasn't cold, we had the kids in snow pants so they could splash in the slushy puddles to their hearts' content. Daniel wanted to bring his snow shovel along. He scooped the snow from the side of the road and tossed it into the street, where it broke into pebbly bits. He scooped water from puddles, dumped the water into snow piles, and watched it disappear and absorb into the dirty, gray snow. "Mom, is 'pring coming?" he asked me as we turned the last corner to come home, and his little voice sounded wistful.

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